Explosive details emerge of a sordid saga of how officials in influential positions did their best to misuse their power.
NEW DELHI: The documents filed in the case involving the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and its former head of the Mumbai Zonal Unit, Sameer Wankhede, has revealed a sordid saga of how officials in influential positions did their best to misuse the power given to them.
The documents include the First Information Report (FIR) filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), WhatsApp chat between officials concerned and statements by officials and private individuals involved in the case. On 11 May, the CBI had registered a corruption case against five persons, including Wankhede, for allegedly demanding a bribe of Rs 25 crore from family members of those who had been arrested in the 2021 Cordelia cruise ship “drug bust” case, including actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan.
A 2008-batch IRS officer, Wankhede, who then headed the NCB Mumbai zone, had led a team of officers to raid the ship off the Mumbai coast on the night of 2 October 2021. The NCB had claimed to have seized 13 gm of cocaine, 5 gm of mephedrone, 21 gm of marijuana, 22 pills of MDMA and Rs 1.33 lakh cash in the raid, and arrested 17 people, including Aryan. Later, it emerged that the entire operation was “staged”.
After the CBI filed the FIR, Wankhede moved the Delhi High Court, praying for a direction to the CBI to “register as cross-FIR” in the case and probe, among others, the Deputy Director General (DDG) of NCB and his former boss, Gyaneshwar Singh whom he has accused of falsifying records and documents.
Singh had submitted a report to the CBI on the basis of which the probe agency had lodged against Wankhede. After it emerged that there were lapses in the NCB operation, the NCB chief S.N. Pradhan had constituted a special team to probe the matter.
A report of Special Enquiry Team (SET) that was constituted to probe the lapses and allegations in the Aryan Khan case found that on the behest of the Zonal unit head of Mumbai of NCB that was headed by Wankhede, the “independent witness” in the case (K.P. Gosavi), spoke to Shahrukh Khan and demanded a bribe of Rs 25 crore to get his son Aryan Khan released. However, later it was agreed that the matter would be sorted out for Rs 18 crore, out of which Rs 8 crore would be Wankhede’s share.
“The said affidavit (submitted by independent witness Prabhakar Sail) had serious allegations of procedural lapses, a demand of Rs 18 crore from the father of one accused, giving of freehand to the independent witnesses etc., were levelled against the NCB team of Mumbai Zonal Unit, among other things. As per the said allegation, the applicant (Sameer Wankhede) alone had demanded Rs 8 crore for himself and the remaining amount was for the rest of the said team. The Deputy Director General (DDG) South-Western Region recommended inquiry into the matter,” Gyaneshwar Singh, who is a 1999 batch IPS officer of the Himachal Pradesh cadre, has submitted in the Delhi High Court.
The SET also pointed out in its report about the lavish foreign holidays by Wankhede and how these holidays were not reported to the department. He is also alleged to have not reported about his stays and hospitality to the department and have in many instances concealed or mis-reported about his foreign visits.
The investigation alleged that Wankhede undertook six foreign trips between 2017 to 2021 (five years) to countries like UK, Ireland, Portugal, South Africa and Maldives spanning over 55 days of foreign stay and declared that he had spent Rs 8.75 lakh together in these holidays. The report further alleges that such a meagre amount shown by the officer can barely cover the cost of air travel to these exotic destinations.
The report also stated that Sameer’s Maldives holiday with his family was paid for by businessman and director of Mumbai’s luxury watch brand company, Time Avenue, Viraal Jamaaluddin Rajan. It is estimated that the payment to the Taj Exotica resort, Maldives was made through Viraal Rajan’s credit card and the payment amounted to Rs 7.5 lakh.
“The expenses of these declared private visits to countries have apparently been under-reported by Sh. Sameer Wankhede. In all the visits, expenditure incurred onwards travelling, lodging, boarding, VISA, miscellaneous expenditure declared by him is between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh which is clearly wrong declaration/under- reporting,” the report stated.
The inquiry report further alleges that Sameer Wankhede purchased a Rolex Gold watch worth Rs 22,05,000 for Rs. 17,40,000 on credit from Viral Jamaaluddin Rajan. Wankhede is also accused of selling four gents watches to Viraal Ranjan for Rs 7.40 lakh and this has raised doubts over his dubious transactions with Rajan.
The Sunday Guardian’s email to Rajan for his response on the matter did not elicit any response till the time the story went to press. The SET also found that Wankhede owns four flats in Mumbai and 16.88 acres of land in Washim, Wankhede also bought a fifth flat in Mumbai’s Goregaon for Rs 85 lakh, whose market value is Rs 2.45 crore. The report points out that the massive spending by Wankhede did not match his and his family’s combined income.
“It can be seen that as per ITR of two FY ie. 1-4-2018 to 31-3-2020 of Sh. Sameer (Rs 31,55,883) & his wife Ms Kranti (Rs 14,05,577) their total income was Rs 45,61,460 only. The expenditure on the two unreported transactions of Maldives Trip (Rs 7,25,000) and buying of the expensive Rolex (Rs 22,05,000) watch amounts to Rs 29,30,000,” the report stated.
The SET found several irregularities and procedural lapses in the Aryan Khan case. According to the inquiry report, the information note in the case was changed and modified at the “last moment” and “the names of accused Aryan Khan and Arbaaz were included at the last moment and the names of some other suspects were dropped from the original information note.”
The report also states that there was no seizure memo made during the arrest and valuables and mobile phones which were seized during the raid and subsequent arrest were not officially shown. It has also been alleged by one of the witnesses that her Apple Watch was taken away by the Investigating Officer, Anil Ladh, who was inducted into the NCB from the BSF.
It has also been alleged that the NCB had let go of people and accused despite having evidence of them having drugs on them.
“The accused Arbaaz revealed one Siddharth Shah as the supplier of Charas to him. NCB Mumbai examined Siddharth Shah and he was allowed to go by the NCB Mumbai even though the SET later found that his phone chats both on WhatsApp and Telegram clearly showed that he was consuming drugs. It is not clear under what circumstances he was allowed to walk free by the NCB Mumbai and the matter raises suspicion.”
Saumya Singh, another accused, on whom rolling paper was found, was allowed to go by the NCB Mumbai team and a clean chit was given to her. Incidentally, Saumya Singh’s name also featured in the information list that was used to carry out the raid inside the Cordellia Cruise.
The report also pointed out that the CCTV footage from NCB office in Mumbai for that night was found to be corrupt. “The DVR and the Hard Disc provided by the office of NCB Mumbai were different. It appears from the actions of the Zone that the CCTV footage did have something important and the same was intentionally not provided to the SET.”
The SET found that Aryan Khan and co-accused Arbaz Merchant were brought to the NCB office in a private vehicle by an independent witness K.P. Gosavi which is against the rule. “The audio recording of Aryan Khan circulated by K.P. Gosavi is again a procedural lapse. The series of lapses one after the other in the custody of the accused Aryan khan is a proof of the fact that the custody of the accused Aryan Khan was compromised in an intentional manner to give an opportunity to K.P. Gosavi,” the report stated.
As per Wankhede’s argument in the court, he was doing everything on the directions of his superior, Gyaneshwar Singh.
However, this has been strongly denied by Singh. As per Singh’s assertions, “The raid on the said cruize in respect of the said incident was over by the night of 02.10.21 itself and till then the applicant (Wankehde) had not contacted the deponent (Singh) and nor the deponent had had any word or exchange of chat with the applicant or his team. The last panchnama concluded on 02.10.21 at 11:58 p.m.”
The court document submitted by the parties in the court also consist of “WhatsApp Forward” that was shared by Wankhede with Singh in which it is being alleged that, “And papa (Shah Rukh Khan) is business partner with Tony Ashai who is ISI agent and founder of ImTheDim and one of key persons in DGang (referring to Dawood Ibrahim)”. Wankhede also told Singh about how his operation against Khan was trending on Twitter despite attempts by what he called the “paid media” of Khan to stop it trending.
Wankhede also filed a response to the allegations made against him in the Bombay High Court pleading that the FIR against him by the CBI be quashed since the allegations levelled against him are “false” and “malicious”.
Wankhede claimed that the allegations of extortion from Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan are false and in support of his argument, he has also shared several screenshots of a purported chat between the Bollywood actor and him, where Khan is seen pleading before Wankhede to “go slow” on his son Aryan Khan, citing that the conversation between the two “nowhere” suggest that any demand for money was made to the actor.
“Allegations pertaining to the arrest of Aryan Khan being only an attempt for demanding money in exchange of his release is blatantly false and can be clearly seen from the messages sent by Shahrukh Khan himself during the time Aryan was in the custody of NCB. Khan has, vide his messages, clearly portrayed that he has no grievances against the Petitioner (Sameer Wankhede) and has only requested to be kind to his son and the tone of his messages would have been completely contrary had the Petitioner raised any demands for money for releasing Aryan Khan,” Wankhede said in his petition before the Bombay High Court.
Wankhede’s petition further claimed that the “conversation between 3rd and 15th October nowhere suggests that either in the message of Shahrukh Khan or in the reply of the Petitioner that there was either a demand made or caused to be made for extending a favour or advantage to Aryan Khan. It was always Shahrukh Khan who has initiated the conversation and the Petitioner responded to the same. At no point of time has the Petitioner initiated any conversation with Shahrukh Khan in connection with this case.”
Wankhede further argued that if there was any truth in these allegations of demands then the conversation between him and Khan would have been in different lines and not in the form of a father persuading and pleading before law enforcement officer to help his son in reformation keeping in mind his future.
Wankhede also told the Bombay High Court that his superior, Gyaneshwar Singh, who also conducted the inquiry against him which led to an FIR being filed by the CBI “falsified” the records of NCB and CBI and alleged that he was not involved in the supervision and control of the Aryan Khan case and that Wankhede was acting independently, “Whereas Singh was the controlling superior of Wankhede and supervised the work and functioning of Wankhede on real time basis,” the petition said.